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Ontario Bike Regulations—Know Your Rights!

By Sheila Ascroft

Learning to share the road requires learning the rules of the road.

Although the official rules of the road vary from province to province and state to state, there are many regulations in common. Obviously, I can’t list the specific rules for your area, so I’ve decided to focus on my own province of Ontario. Below is a summary of the most common bike regulations according to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. (For a complete list, see Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Be aware, that all the regulations listed here carry $85 fines for non-compliance, except for: not having a proper lights ($20); not wearing a helmet if under 16 ($60); and for not stopping for “stopped school buses when the upper alternating red lights are flashing and the stop arm is out” ($400).

I have italicized a few things that you may not have been aware of. Sometimes, the local police force is not aware of these nuances either!

In general, cyclists must ride far enough out from the curb to maintain a straight line, clear of sewer grates, debris, potholes, and parked car doors. You may occupy any part of a lane when your safety warrants it. Never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist behind you. (If only we could get drivers to think of cyclists as they do slow-moving farm equipment, perhaps they would be more willing to slow down and wait for a clear opportunity to pass us!)

Cyclists are required to ride as close as practicable to the right curb of the roadway, except when:

  • travelling at the normal speed of traffic
  • avoiding hazardous conditions
  • the roadway is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side-by-side
  • riding alongside another cyclist in a manner that does not impede the normal movement of traffic
  • preparing to make a left turn, passing another vehicle, or using a one-way street (in which case riding alongside the left curb is permitted).

Cyclists also have to:

  • stop for red lights and stop signs and comply with all other signs
  • ride in the designated direction on one-way streets
  • before turning, look behind and signal the turn. The right arm can be used to signal a right turn or use the left with the elbow bent and hand up and vertical.
  • yield or stop for pedestrians at crosswalks
  • walk your bike when crossing at a crosswalk
  • stop and identify correctly themselves when required by police for breaking traffic laws.

Although it seems like common sense, your bike is required to have at least one brake system on the rear wheel. “When you put on the brakes, you should be able to skid on dry, level pavement.” Every cyclist under 18 must wear an approved bicycle helmet. Parents or guardians shall not knowingly permit cyclists under 16 to ride without a helmet.

Your bike must also have:

  • a white front light and a red rear light or reflector if you ride between 1/2 hour before sunset and 1/2 hour after sunrise. Also required: white reflective tape on the front forks and red reflective tape on rear forks
  • a bell or horn in good working order

A few other rules:

  • bicycles are prohibited on expressway / freeway highways such as the 400 series, the QEW, Ottawa Queensway and on roads where “No Bicycle” signs are posted
  • passengers are not allowed on a bicycle designed for one person
  • cyclists are not permitted to attach themselves to the outside of another vehicle or streetcar for the purpose of “hitching a ride.”
  • if walking your bike on a highway where there are no sidewalks, you are considered a pedestrian and you should walk on the left-hand side of the road facing traffic. If it is not safe for you to cross the road to face traffic, you may walk your bike on the right-hand side of the road.

Remember: the only way to share the road is to share the learning. Please pass this on.

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12 comments to Ontario Bike Regulations—Know Your Rights!

  • ethan

    i got into trobel for rideing my bike on school propoty

  • My question would be why do cyclists have to ride on roads at all when there are hundreds of miles of bicycle trails in Ontario? My experience has been quite negative.. I have had bikes pull out in front of me when they could not get up to speed , they never stop at stop signs unless there is a car coming, they crowd the road riding 3-4 abreast and not moving and the list goes on. These are on rural roads. As far as slowing down for a tractor, they have a vital purpose, I am not slowed down so YOU can exercise.

    • Daniel Brotherston

      You clearly have never ridden anywhere in Ontario. You should try riding a bike some places. First off, I have just as much right to use the roads as tractors or cars. Secondly, many of us ride for transportation. Exercise is a nice benefit of choosing cycling for transportation, but I have every right to choose to cycle instead of drive. On to breaking the law, I see drivers break the law every day every single day. When drivers do it, they could kill someone. I think complaining about cyclists breaking the law is petty by comparison. As far as riding on trails, we have thousands of miles of trails, and almost none of them are connected together. To ride in Ontario, one MUST ride on the road. If you want to fix that, argue for better cycling infrastructure. Too many drivers argue against cycling infrastructure, which seems to be a seriously stupid point of view for a group of people who don’t like to be inconvenienced by cyclists.

  • Karen

    Maybe you should read the rules of Slow Moving Vehicles – you MUST stay to the right
    HTA 147 – Slow moving traffic travel on right side
    any vehicle moving slower than the normal traffic speed should drive in the right-hand lane, or as close as practicable to the right edge of the road except when preparing to turn left or when passing another vehicle. Set fine: $85.00

  • Paul

    As I have previously indicated, I agree with the laws. My question then is, what are safe roads to cycle on? To play the devils advocate, to “put it out there”, why aren’t cyclists permitted on 400 highways? What is a safe speed? We know that most drivers go 90 on an 80 km speed limit. Is that safe?

  • Robin

    Look at boating right of way rules, slower vessels ALWAYS get the right of way.
    On shared use trails, right of way goes to horses, pedestrians, cyclists and cite no motorized vehicles.
    Contrary to people like Paul and Daniels opinion, the slower and more vulnerable get the right of way and the faster and more powerful must yield.
    This create a safer and empathetic environment for all.
    Two by two cycling creates a presence on the road and it is motor vehicle operators responsibility to see to the safety of everyone on the road whether they be animals, people, school buses and tractors. It a speed LIMIT that is posted, not a requirement so exercise caution, courtesy and patience.
    Remember, that could be your family member or friend sharing the road or if should you elect to exercise the option of participating in this healthy and fun mode of transportation, you!

  • Diogenes

    My region’s police disagrees with the law and thinks bikes should stay as close to the curb as possible regardless of the cyclist’s safety, just so motorists won’t be delayed for a few seconds….I have to tolerate harassing honks, shouts and cursing from obnoxious motorists and the police seem to agree with them…

  • Paul Matte

    I wasn’t clear. As I said, I understand and agree with the laws. I may not have been clear when I used the word “clump”. The rules say two abreast, side-by-side, in a line is OK. I agree. When I refer to the pack, I mean a large group of a dozen clustered as if in a race, not side-by-side. I live outside of Brockville on cty. rd. 2 where it is double laned. I see this situation far too often. Someone is going to get hurt.

  • Paul Matte

    I agree with all the laws and rules. They are common sense. What I never here about, however, are the rules or laws behind groups riding on an 80 km limit rural road. They often travel in clumps taking an entire lane. Isn’t this dangerous? Group/Touring cyclists need to be made aware that they do not own the road, that the law states they should ride single file and that slower traffic should yield to faster vehicles.

    • Sheila

      Cyclists ARE allowed to ride double on certain roads. Most packs have no more than eight cyclists or about the length of a school bus. You deal with buses who take a whole lane, don’t you? As for the speed, it might help to think of a group of cyclists as you would a farm tractor – slow down and pass when safe.

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